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Contagious: 6 Reasons Things Catch On

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger spend the last 10 years looking into what makes things popular.

Contagious: 6 Reasons Things Catch On

Stashed in: Books, Farnam Street, Viral Content

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Since this initial look, Berger has continued to study and refine why things catch on. He’s come up with a formula of sorts: the six key steps to drive people to talk and share. In an interview, summarizing the book, he described the STEPPS as:

  1. Social currency: It’s all about people talking about things to make themselves look good, rather than bad
  2. Triggers: which is all about the idea of “top of mind, tip of tongue.” We talk about things that are on the top of our heads.
  3. Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information or the more we’re feeling physiologically aroused, the more likely we pass something on.
  4. Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.
  5. Practical value: Basically, it’s the idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off.
  6. Stories: or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives.

The irony is the better people get at headlines to make us click the less effective this formula becomes. “If everyone is perfectly implementing the best headline to pass on, it’s not as effective any more,” Berger says. “What used to be emotionally arousing simply isn’t any longer.”


Exactly. I rarely click on clickbait headlines anymore. 

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